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The anatomy of a scheduled loss

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We explore what makes this the toughest part of the Golden State Warriors’ schedule.

Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last night, the Golden State Warriors fell to the Boston Celtics (99-86) in the sixth game of a nightmare eight-game stretch that has been dubbed the hardest part of the Warriors’ schedule. Golden State clearly ran out of gas as Boston dominated the fourth quarter.

To get an idea of what the Warriors have been facing, we take a look at the realities of their grueling itinerary.

The flight plan

After defeating the Brooklyn Nets at home, the Warriors started this killer stretch with a flight across the country to Philadelphia. From there they made their way west to Washington and Chicago, back east to New York, south to Atlanta and back across the country to California for their most recent game against Boston. They’re now on their way back east to play a back-to-back in Minnesota and then in San Antonio before returning home.

If you do the math on this trip it sounds like a horrible version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”: Over 9,500 miles traveled, 10 days, eight games total, seven away, six time zone changes, two sets of back-to-backs — sing with me now — and a tragic MCL sprain.

The sleep factor

Anyone who has traveled over time zones knows it can be an unpleasant experience. You feel groggy, slow and disoriented. This is because your body is telling you that it’s one time, while your environment is telling you it’s a completely different time.

We can naturally adjust to this discrepancy as our internal clocks catch up to external environmental clues, but it usually takes a couple days. NBA players have no such luxury. As a result, they’re often forced to play games with their internal clocks out of rhythm. Hardly a recipe for success.

Sleep schedules are often disrupted when traveling across time zones. A 2011 Stanford University study was conducted on eleven members of the Stanford men’s basketball team. Baseline data was collected on the players while they maintained their typical sleep schedules. Then a period of extended sleep was instituted where the subjects would get at least 10 hours of sleep per night.

Impressively, with the increase in sleep, the subjects also had faster reaction times and faster sprint times. They also had, get this, an increase in free-throw and three-point shooting percentages of nine percent.

Unfortunately, lack of sleep can have essentially the opposite effect on performance. So traveling across the country while playing an intense sport on the biggest stage is going to take its toll, to say the least.

The game

Obviously, the act of playing basketball is itself a tall task. Players will run over three miles during the course of a game, mostly at a dead sprint. On average, a player will have 1,000 changes of movement patterns per game — each change occurring about every two seconds — all from explosive bursts from their muscles.

Along with the physical aspects of the sport comes the mental fatigue. Being locked in and engaged during a game takes a significant amount of mental energy.

Not to mention that the Warriors are one of the most scrutinized teams in the league right now and every move, good or bad, is analyzed to death. The players know this better than anyone; and while they might not care what anyone else thinks, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take mental fortitude to deal with all the talk.

The result

Given the difficulty of this stretch of games, the result of last night’s game against the Celtics shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. So far, they’re 3-3 since the start of their most recent road trip — 2-3 since losing Durant — and with a back-to-back left, the Warriors still have a lot more work to do before they can return home for a nice home stand.

History tells us that in an 82-game season, there are always going to be “scheduled losses.” I mean, the game against the San Antonio Spurs has “scheduled loss” written all over it! But the reality is that every team has a killer stretch of games at some point during the season and they just have to deal with it. For the Warriors, that time is now. It’s just unfortunate that it has coincided with the loss of a key player, but that’s the NBA.

You can chalk it up to the schedule, to the grind, to fatigue or to any other reason, but in the end, a loss is a loss. All the Warriors can do is look to the next game and work on getting better.

Yes, they’re tired. Yes, they’re a man down. And, yes, they’re not playing very well at the moment. So, as a fan, it’s sometimes hard to watch. But Klay Thompson put it best when he said this:

Eyes on the prize, people.

Let’s go Dubs.